Selah winter sports teams impress as spring programs await spotlight

Note: This column was written March 8, prior to the cancellation of the spring sports season and the suspension of classes due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Now that the winter sports season has been put to bed, we can begin thinking about spring. But we can’t officially move on to baseball, softball, soccer and track before we take stock of the many accomplishments put forth by our local basketball and wrestling teams.

For starters, the Selah High wrestlers performed better than they have in nearly three decades, taking home a fourth-place state trophy from Mat Classic XXXII. Led by three-time state champion Amadeo Flores Pimentel, the Vikings accomplished their goal of earning a top-five finish, snagging their first piece of hardware since 1992.

Fellow senior Jackson Yates battled his way to a third-place medal, along with sophomore teammate Jesse Salinas, while sophomore Donny Schmidt earned a fifth-place finish. Longtime head coach Ken Mozingo knew his squad had the talent to join the top five in Class 2A, and after three straight seventh-place finishes, the Viks didn’t let their golden opportunity pass them by.

They will no doubt miss Pimentel next year, but Mozingo is expecting 11 of 14 varsity wrestlers back on the mat, so it may not be too early to talk about a return trip to the podium.

Both Selah High basketball teams also will be returning a wealth of talent after exceeding expectations this winter. The boys, led by two-time CWAC MVP Noah Pepper, will bring back all five starters and nine of 12 varsity players after reaching the state tournament for the fifth consecutive year.

The Vikings began the season with just three players who had varsity experience, yet they managed to finish 16-8 overall, winning a state regional matchup over Renton before falling to eventual state champion North Kitsap at the SunDome.

And while coach Tim Garza’s team didn’t go as far as they have become accustomed to in recent years — reaching the 2A title game in 2017 and 2019 — the experience they gained will be invaluable next year as they look to get over the championship hump. Also returning to the starting lineup will be all-CWAC honorable mention selections Teegan Garza and John Zambito, along with Cooper Quigley and Matt Quincy.

Pepper’s younger brother, Levi, who missed most of the season due to injury, will also be back after demonstrating enormous potential in the district title game and two state playoff contests. I mean, he is a Pepper after all. His older brother Elijah is finishing up his freshman season at UC-Davis, while their father, Ryan, is the all-time leading scorer at Central Washington University.

The Selah girls, meanwhile, surpassed nearly everyone’s expectations this season after graduating most of their 2018-19 roster. Led by freshman league MVP Kylie Sherman, coach Rick Hartman’s squad finished with a league record of 10-8 and reached the CWAC quarterfinals.

Two other freshmen, Jaisha Gibb (CWAC honorable mention) and Kieryann Mattson, joined Sherman in the starting lineup, benefitting from the leadership of seniors Ashlynn Hall, Roni Rasmussen and Jade Wold. Sophomore Jayden Horton will also be expected to make an impact next year after missing half of the season with a foot injury.

That brings us to spring, where Selah High is no stranger to success, either. The baseball team, coming off a 2A state championship, figures to be formidable once again despite the loss of a strong graduating class. State Hall of Fame head coach Mike Archer has built one heck of a program over here, and the prevailing attitude in the clubhouse is that everyone is chasing them — not the other way around.

The Viks’ cupboards are never bare, and this year’s up-and-comers will rely upon veterans Nate Gutierrez, Wyatt Berriman, Caden Herbst and Dean Pettyjohn to lead them back to the top of the league — and, very likely, the state 2A rankings.

Softball coach Bill Harris is bringing back even more experience from last season, when the Vikings caught fire over the final month and reached the state quarterfinals. The projected lineup includes returning all-leaguers Sydney Wells, Kayle Ice, Lizzie Hull and Mia Peralta, along with Rylee Coons and hard-throwing sophomore pitcher Aerin Lee.

Plus, the CWAC is always tough. With stout competition from East Valley, Othello, Ephrata and Ellensburg, Selah should be battle-tested come playoff time. There’s every reason to think the Vikings will be in the mix for a state trophy once again.

Likewise, Selah’s boys soccer team is expecting to be competing for a state bid again this season, led by seniors Brandon Vallejo and Dylan Foster. Graduation did take a bite out of the starting lineup for third-year coach Josh Koreski, but the Vikings have shown in recent years that they have the skills to hang with the league’s elite teams from Toppenish and Grandview.

Track and field, tennis and golf are also getting underway this month, so check back next edition for updates on those programs. It’s been an exciting year so far for Selah High athletics, and we’re expecting even more fireworks in the spring. Best of luck to everyone representing their school and their community.